Birdbox: Barcelona: Faith + formula make a sequel that’s hard to pigeon-hole…

The sequel to the cult dystopian Netflix movie survives on a wing and a prayer, but keeps you invested...

The world has been decimated by a mysterious force of unknown origin: humanity dead or scattered, driven to end their lives or fall into madness at the mere sight of creatures that cannot be looked upon. Some believe it’s aliens, some believe it’s Biblical punishment, but whomever or wherever you are, survival may be measured in days and being able to navigate in the open without sight.

When Sebastián is caught out in an abandoned roller-skating rink he is severely beaten and narrowly survives a group of scavengers looking for their own food. He then comes across another group of survivors making their way back to their base and seeks to join them. Instructing his young daughter, Anna, to wait until he’s identified what motivates this new group, the wanderer manages to get himself taken into their compound to assess their strengths, weaknesses and ill-fortune.

Young. Old. The survivors all have their own tales of survival. The decisions Sebastián makes next will affect not only himself but this group and others in the ransacked, desolate Barcelona as they head towards a possible sanctuary… and all the while deadly forces are watching those cannot see…



Genre-films are plentiful, but it’s far less usual to get an entry that holds the attention.  So, the most interesting thing about Birdbox: Barcelona is that it’s surprisingly hard to pigeon-hole. It would have been very easy to simply recreate the story of the first movie – with a Sandra Bullock figure leading a diminishing group to find some kind of salvation against an enemy that kills merely by being seen. (You’ll remember, if you saw the first, that the world’s population has been decimated by an off-camera invasion and event in which human beings are driven to kill themselves after simply seeing the invaders, or – in the case of a ‘fortunate’ few – surviving but being driven impossibly mad and becoming a danger to the remaining blindfolded humans). Think of it as a kind of an existential, virtual Day of the Triffids meets The Happening but on steroids.

The original 2018 film was based on the breakthrough novel by Josh Malerman and the author has already penned his own follow-up, Malorie, following the same central character but set twelve years later. Rather than adapt that tome, Netflix opted to hire writers/directors David and Àlex Pastor for a European sojourn that shifts the locale and focus to another corner of the dystopia. Even within that, it would also be possible to go any number of ways and wholly dilute the formula…making something far more generic, the kind of sequel that’s made for a fraction of the cost, with notable contradictions to the first and is pretty much a studio / branding money-grab that rarely equals, never mind beats the original. Occasionally and rarely, a sequel is inspired to try something utterly different, but set it in the same universe – the results of which can vary.

Birdbox: Barcelona, depending on your mileage and the part of it you’re watching in the moment, takes every one of those options available, makes you alternate between your opinions of it and blends the result into something that continues to pivot but remains worthy of the investment. For the first ten minutes or so, you’re going to see it as a rerun: a similar situation with a different cast and an arguably more exotic locale. Then there’s the whole potential older-male-figure-protecting a young child motif… because that hasn’t been done to death recently. You’ll grab your popcorn and settle down for something you expect will be perfectly enjoyable yet likely predictable and undemanding. But then…the central character does something that leaves you head-scratching. (This is usually not a good thing and askew scripting, but sometimes, just sometimes …). As it continues, you start asking different questions. “Well, wasn’t that kinda stupid?” becomes “Wait, why on earth is he doing THAT?” to “Hold on, a second, why IS he doing th… ohhhhh…”  It becomes clear after that first ‘act’ that, yes, we’re in the same universe as the first movie but with a very different perspective.

At this point, I’d strongly suggest not continuing with this review if you want to appreciate Birdbox: Barcelona in its purest form… perhaps the best way to view it without spoilers.

Still here? Okay. In a deft sleight of hand, we begin to realise that our ‘hero’ is actually nothing of the sort – he’s a broken man, haunted by the dead and one who is regularly finding ways to deliver people to their demise… essentially an angel of death or the killer from a slasher movie but built around his perspective and supposedly righteous motivations. He’d encountered the ‘invaders’ and believes – due to the circumstances – that this invasion is some kind of Rapture and that in delivering fellow survivors to see the invaders (with their subsequent deaths) he is honestly freeing their souls. He even ‘sees’ their glowing lights ascend skywards as his ‘daughter’ looks on approvingly. And now that little voice in the back of your head is fretting, isn’t it? It’s thinking “Oh-oh, soul-lights? Has the original, ambiguous idea simply been co-opted into one of those quite dreadful quasi-Christian-supremacy Left Behind entries?”  The answer is, thankfully, no… nothing so divisive, denominational or demonic per se.  Or at least, not so definitive. What we are going to be watching is a survivor who has been torn apart by grief and succumbed to delusions or perhaps a man cruelly manipulated by these ethereal forces into doing their bidding. Early on, there’s that exact debate over whether the culling of humanity is alien or angelic and it’s pointed out by another character (and by the movie as a whole) that the answer to that specific question may not even matter. As the story moves on and his experiences with others continue to change him, Sebastián‘s visions change as his faith in what he is doing begins to falter. This becomes a film about choices – what you go through and what you come back from, a film that doesn’t remotely push the genre boundaries but manages to impressively embrace the square-footage within them.

Mario Casas makes a strong, conflicted lead giving Sebastián an edge that makes you realise the inner turmoil and pain that the character has been through, making it easy to like and dislike him simultaneously. British actor Georgina Campbell as Claire is the other ‘lead’ of the piece and holds her own as she tries to find a way to get the survivors to the safety of the cable-car-protected structure on the edge of the city. Young performers Naila Schuberth as Sofia and Alejandra Howard as ‘Anna’ also project intensity in very different roles.

Though there are many echoes of the original Birdbox, the Barcelona locale and the tone of the piece bring to mind another memorable Spanish contribution to the genre: REC – the idea of taking a well-worn idea and giving it a slightly different, European spin. REC was a zombie apocalypse made fresh by taking place in a single Spanish tenement building, Birdbox: Barcelona is a genre-piece more interested in zealots than carnage.

If the audience realises it doesn’t quite know how it’s going to play out, the film itself has moments when it seems unsure how it wants to play, never quite committing to one singular footing. That makes its foundations a little flimsier than ideal and inevitably some beats work better than others: as much as some twists are clever, some plot-points, archetypes and set-pieces announce themselves well in advance – it’s just not knowing which is which. By the end, we’re very much back in familiar endgame and sacrificial territory, but with an established investment in the outcome of the few remaining characters. In that sense, the destination is the least surprising thing here, the film reflects what you bring to it but the journey in and of itself feels like a solid enough anthology tale… a decent novella given extra wiggle room and enough frayed threads to provide a diverting story and maybe more entries if required.

'Birdbox: Barcelona'  (film review)
'Birdbox: Barcelona' (film review)
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